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Klaus (2019)


I enjoy cheesy Christmas movies. Netflix has my Christmas movie taste dialed in with the A Christmas Prince series and even The Knight Before Christmas. Klaus is not like those cheesy films, Klaus is about the origin of Santa Claus and being kind to one another. Most of the cast repeats “A true act of goodwill always sparks another” once or twice during the movie.

Jesper, Jason Schwartzman, an entitled son of a wealthy father is sent to the far north of his country, Smeerensburg, to be a postman or else his wealth will be cut off. He must handle 6000 letters before he can return home. Alva, Rashida Jones, wanted to be a schoolteacher, but without children in her classroom has resorted to selling fish to save money and leave Smeerensburg. Klaus, J.K. Simmons, is a hermit on the remote part of the island that was once a prolific toymaker in anticipation of having children. Sadly, his wife was never able to give birth and eventually died, leaving him alone with a warehouse of unused toys.

The town of Smeerensburg is made up of two families; the Ellingboe and the Krum. They have been feuding for as long as they can remember and take great pride in the fighting. They are easily identifiable as the Ellingboe have red hair and the Krum have black hair. The town takes more pride in the feud than anything else.

The movie comes up with a few interesting backstories to the origin of the traditions around Santa Claus. This starts with writing letters to him so that Jesper can deliver 6000 and go home. It touches on the flying reindeer and the red suit as well. The naughty list is the biggest motivator for the children of Smeerensburg. The children gradually, through a well-executed montage, learn to play across the family divide and their parents follow suit. It is a pleasant story that should teach children to not hold the grudges of their parents.

Klaus falters because of a movie trope that I despise. Jesper has clearly had a change of heart and his relationships with others are genuine and built on a collective history of good deeds. When he is given the opportunity to leave Smeerensburg, everyone immediately turns their backs on him without letting him explain anything, or even make a choice; I hate it when movies do this. They take time to build layered characters and establish relationships, but they make everything so fragile that the tiniest amount of adversity results in complete abandonment with a stubborn refusal to understand a more complex situation. It is not right to teach children to perpetuate lies to keep everyone happy, but it is also incorrect to teach them that people aren’t understanding. Children are smart enough to understand that people can change. Jesper does overcome the adversity by a heroic act, as is par for the course. Everyone acknowledges the single heroic act, and everything goes back to normal. Again, this is a bad lesson to teach children. The cumulative effects of someone’s pattern of behavior are what they should be judged on, not single points in time.

The most interesting character in the film is Margu, a young Sami girl. She doesn’t speak English like the rest of the cast, and she lives outside of town in a Lavvu, similar to a tipi, village. The Sami are an indigenous people living across northern Scandinavia. Margu only speaks in Sami. Eventually, Jesper and Alva begin learning Sami, but it is easy to understand Margu’s intentions in her dialog before this. The animators did a wonderful job of conveying non-verbal messaging. It is also nice to see an indigenous culture included in this way.

Klaus is not a sappy Hallmark channel inspired Christmas movie. It has a lot of good messaging that everyone can learn from at any time during the year. The color palette gradually shifts from blacks and greys to a crayon box full of color. Animation, as a film genre, continues to improve year after year and Klaus is just the next beautiful step in the evolution. CGI lighting techniques were used overtop of traditional animation to bring another level of depth to the scene. The story is as touching as the visuals are brilliant. Despite the misstep when Jesper is shut out, the movie is worth watching as a family even if it is not Christmas time.

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